Technology

“All sins have their origin in a sense of inferiority otherwise called ambition.” -Cesare Pavese After another Universe-investigating week here at Starts With A Bang, I'm pleased to make two simple but very satisfying announcements: The latest Starts With A Bang podcast, on Interstellar Travel, will be going live next week, so look for it soon! I just signed a contract to write my second book, on the real-life science and technology of the Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation franchises! So if you've got comments on either of those, or suggestions or whatever, you know what to do.…
One of the key faults of the Harper Conservatives' science policy was their emphasis on applied research to the detriment of basic, curiosity driven research. Obviously there needs to be a balance between any government's approach to those two kinds of research, neither polar opposite is appropriate. But the Conservatives were way out of wack with their policy, significantly favouring commercially-driven, industrial-partnership-focused, applied research. The signature policy in that vein was their transformation of the National Research Council into a Concierge to Industry. Thankfully the…
Thinker, writer, and independent scholar Shawn Otto has written an important book called “The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It” (Milkweed Editions, publisher) Read this book now, and act on what you learn from it, for the sake of your own future and the future of our children and their children. The rise of modern civilization, from the Enlightenment onward for hundreds of years, was the same thing as the rise of modern science. The rise of science was a cultural novelty with only vague foreshadowing. It was a revolution in the way humans think.…
Those of us living in Michigan who support science-based medicine have been forced to deal with a bill that, if passed, would grant practitioners of unscientific “medicine” a wide scope of practice—almost as wide as that of primary care practitioners such as pediatricians, internists, and family practice doctors. I’m referring to HB 4531, a bill that would license naturopaths who graduated from “accredited” programs. If this bill were to pass, the only difference between the scope of practice of primary care physicians and naturopaths would be that naturopaths wouldn’t be allowed to prescribe…
"By refocusing our space program on Mars for America's future, we can restore the sense of wonder and adventure in space exploration that we knew in the summer of 1969. We won the moon race; now it's time for us to live and work on Mars, first on its moons and then on its surface." -Buzz Aldrin When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in August of 2012, it seemed that we had the ultimate successor to Opportunity in place. That older, over-engineered rover is still going after more than 12 years on the red planet, and Curiosity is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of technology: nuclear powered,…
"Science is the only self-correcting human institution, but it also is a process that progresses only by showing itself to be wrong." -Allan Sandage As April leaves us and May commences here at Starts With A Bang, I'm so pleased to inform you that amazing things are happening! Thanks to the support of everyone on Patreon, we're over 95% of the way towards our next goal: the creation of the most accurate, beautiful, scientific timeline of the Universe's history poster ever made! We've also covered the following topics this past week for you to ring in on: Could an atmosphere slow down a…
"Fundamental physics is like an art more or less. It's completely non-practical, and you can't use it for anything. But it's about the universe and how the world came into being. It's very remote from your daily life and mine, and yet it defines us as human beings." -Yuri Milner In one of the boldest initiatives ever announced, billionaire Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking are working on developing a "Breakthrough Starshot" project, where an advanced laser array will power a sail-driven spacecraft to speeds exceeding 60,000 km/s, taking it to the nearest stars within a single human lifetime. A…
Stephen Hsu thinks super intelligent humans are coming. He thinks this because he's very impressed with genetic engineering (he's a physicist), and believes that the way to make people more intelligent is to adjust their genes, and therefore, more gene tweaking will lead to more intelligent people, inevitably. And not just intelligent, but super-intelligent, with IQs about 1000, even though he has no idea what that means, or for that matter, even though no one really knows what an IQ of 100 means. We're going to figure out all the genes that are involved in intelligence, and then we'll just…
In another example of the value of investing in public health, a recent study finds that PulseNet, a national foodborne illness outbreak network, prevents about 276,000 illnesses every year, which translates into savings of $507 million in medical costs and lost productivity. That’s a pretty big return on investment for a system that costs just $7.3 million annually to operate. Created 20 years ago and coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PulseNet includes 83 state and federal laboratories and identifies about 1,750 disease clusters every year. It works by linking…
As a girl growing up in the 1950s in Harlem, X-STEM Speaker Dr. Patricia Bath became fascinated by newspaper accounts of the humanitarian work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (who treated lepers in Africa). That, coupled with encouragement and motivation from her family doctor and her parents, fueled her desire to become a physician. She would not only go on to fulfill her dream, but make medical history as well. Dr. Bath, a noted ophthalmologist and laser scientist, is especially known for discovering and inventing the revolutionary device and technique for cataract surgery known as the laserphaco…
First, what is a gravitational wave? I find it interesting that some people are expressing difficulty in understanding what a gravitational wave is, as though everybody (who is not a physicist) has a perfectly good understanding of what any kind of wave is. We don't need to go too deeply beneath the surface, as it were, to understand this well enough to be amazed at the discovery, but not well enough to get a job being a Gravitational Waveologist. Imagine a perfectly flat pond. Imagine throwing a stone out into the middle of the pond. Now imagine ripples, tiny waves, spreading out from the…
It was high times for the Rebel Alliance at the end of Return of the Jedi (1983). Across the galaxy, crowds rejoiced at the destruction of the second Death Star and the apparent defeat of Emperor Palpatine. Princess Leia Organa, who two films earlier had seen her home planet exploded for sport, was re-united with a twin brother she never knew she had, becoming aware of her own Force sensitivity, and in love with a swashbuckling hero who would later father her son. It was a resounding victory, and deservedly so, even if Ewoks had to help. The Force Awakens begins thirty years later, yet…
2015 was an amazing year for scifi movies. The Martian, Fury Road, Force Awakens. And I hear Ex Machina is good too? Tess Parks's "Life Is But A Dream" sounds exactly like Mazzy Star. Tolkien Society flea market / fundraiser, late 80s. I'm in my larper tunic and baggy-sleeved shirt. An old lady loudly asks her friend, "Was that a boy in a dress?" Jack the Ripper was into one night stabs. Signed off on Jr's first ID. "You are the bows from which your children / as living arrows are sent forth." Deezer took a look at my druggy favourites, then played me "White Rabbit" and "Eight Miles High".…
"Our family was too strange and weird for even Santa Claus to come visit... Santa, who was jolly - but, let's face it, he was also very judgmental." -Julia Sweeney Everyone loves to point out the holes in the Santa Claus theory. After all, how could one person with a sled, powered by eight flying reindeer, deliver presents in one night to hundreds of millions of households all over the world? And yet, every Christmas morning, children wake up to find they did, in fact, get a visit from Santa. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Glogger, of the Santa Claus parade in Toronto, 2007.…
On December 9th, National Public Radio broadcast an interview between NPR’s Steve Inskeep and Senator Ted Cruz on the subject of climate change. Below is an annotated transcript of that interview with my [bracketed] responses to the consistently false scientific claims made by Senator Cruz. Effectively, every single scientific point he made was wrong – a classic “Gish Gallop” of long-debunked talking points of those who dispute the unambiguous scientific evidence of climate change. In these bracketed annotations I have provided a few hyperlinks to each of the myths he repeats. I have tried…
According to a new, first-of-its-kind survey of the nation’s public health workforce, 38 percent of workers are planning to leave their current positions before the next decade. On its face, that’s a deeply worrisome number. But Brian Castrucci is an optimist — “where there is change, there is opportunity,” he says. Castrucci serves as chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, which along with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, recently released the findings of the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey. The survey, referred to as PH…
“In the world of the very small, where particle and wave aspects of reality are equally significant, things do not behave in any way that we can understand from our experience of the everyday world...all pictures are false, and there is no physical analogy we can make to understand what goes on inside atoms. Atoms behave like atoms, nothing else.” -John Gribbin No matter how much you've experienced in this world, there are some properties of the Universe that will still never be intuitive. Here at Starts With A Bang, we don't shy away from any of it; we embrace it all! This past week, here's…
I've written many times about how the relationship between the early detection of cancer and decreased mortality from cancer is not nearly as straightforward as the average person—even the average doctor—thinks, the first time being in the very first year of this blog's existence. Since then, the complexities and overpromising of various screening modalities designed to detect disease at an early, asymptomatic phase have become a relatively frequent topic on this blog. Even more than ten years ago, I noted that screening MRI for breast cancer and whole body CT scans intended to detect other…
Hillary Clinton just came out with her climate change plan. Here it is. Hillary Clinton’s Vision for Modernizing North American Energy Infrastructure Flipping a light switch, adjusting the thermostat, or turning a car key in the ignition brings predictable results—the light goes on, the temperature changes, the car starts. But where the energy for those everyday tasks comes from has changed dramatically in recent years, due to massive gains in renewable energy and a boom in domestic oil and gas production. And the amount of energy required to perform those tasks has fallen thanks to historic…
Liquid fuel powering internal combustion engines is inherently inefficient. This is because innumerable explosions causing kinetic work to be done also makes piles of heat, and for other reasons. The same amount of energy put into an electric motor and an internal combustion motor produce more usable work for the former than the latter. Also, electric motors can operate at similar efficiencies across a range of speeds, while internal combustion motors require more messing around to change speeds. And then there is torque. Torque is apparently at the center of coolness for many vehicle…